“More Than a Feeling, That’s the Power of Love” Gratitude Part 2
1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Philippians 1:3-11
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
January 28, 2018
How many weddings have you been to that you have heard this scripture? Perhaps you heard it at your own. I have done probably 100 weddings and 9 times out of 10 the couple wants these verses included in the service. These words have become linked with that one day in a person’s life. It is almost impossible for us to hear them and not think of bridal gowns and whispered “I dos.”
But, today, we are going to try because Paul did not write these words for a wedding. They have nothing to do with getting married. Originally, Paul wrote them because he was fed up with the members of the church in Corinth and their bad behavior. The tone you should hear in his writing is one of gritted teeth, “Love is PATIENT (!); love is KIND; love is NOT envious, or boastful, or RUDE! I know this scripture is cherished when a pastor reads it on a wedding day but it is a better fit for the pastor to read it to the couple after their first big fight.
Because that is what the Corinthians have been doing. They have been fighting over who in the congregation is the most gifted, the most faithful. They have decided that people who can speak in tongues are top of the heap, as are people who can prophecy and those who give their money away. The church members who couldn’t do these things were seen as less than the ones who could. So Paul, in his frustration with them, lists their most valued gifts—prophecy, speaking in tongues, even selfless service—and he says, without love, these gifts are nothing. Even their greatest talents, their highest offerings are nothing if they are not done with love. Love is greater than any other gift.
We feel the truth of that when we look back over our own lives. When you think about the people who have mattered to you, they probably did not matter to you because their brain was better than most or their bank account bigger. The people who have mattered to you, mattered to you because they showed you love. Who are those people for you? Take a moment right now and name them in your head.
Paul describes those people in the opening paragraphs of his letter to another church, the one at Philippi. He writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” He didn’t remember them because they were so smart or even because they were so talented. He remembered them because, in their service with him, they loved him well. His prayer for them is that they will keep loving as well as they do, and more and more. The way he puts it? He prays their love will “overflow.”
Our theme for these handful of weeks is gratitude. Most of us have wondered how we could have more gratitude in our lives; have wished we could live more gratefully. It can feel like we must need to get our lives in better order before we can be grateful or we need to be of a more cheerful disposition in order to be more grateful. But it is not any of that which would make us more grateful. Gratitude is simply appreciating. And appreciating is simply recognizing something’s value.
I will say it again: Gratitude is a matter of appreciating and appreciating is simply recognizing something’s value. If we want to have more gratitude, we need to focus on valuing what is worth our appreciation. And Paul says that, while talent and gifts and even selfless service are great, the thing worth appreciating is love. When our gratitude is running thin, we need to check ourselves. We have probably started putting greater appreciation in what does not hold true value than we have in what does.
Perhaps you have heard the story about the missionaries. It is a true story of a missionary family in China who was forced to leave the country sometime after the communists took over.
One day a band of soldiers knocked on the door and told this missionary, his wife, and children that they had two hours to pack up before these troops would escort them to the train station. They would be permitted to take with them only two hundred pounds of stuff.
Thus began two hours of family wrangling and bickering — what should they take?
What about this vase?
We don’t need it.
That vase was my mother’s so we’ve got to take the vase.
Well, maybe so, but this typewriter is brand new and we’re not about to leave that behind.
What about some books? Got to take a few of them along.
On and on it went, putting stuff on the bathroom scale and taking it off until finally, they had a pile of possessions that totaled two hundred pounds on the dot.
At the appointed hour, the soldiers returned.
Are you ready?
Did you weigh your stuff?
Yes, we did.
Two hundred pounds?
Yes, two hundred pounds on the dot.
Did you weigh the kids?
Um, . . . No.
Weigh the kids!
And in an instant the vase, the typewriter, and the books all became trash. Trash! None of it meant anything compared to the surpassing value of the children.
And you’re saying, “Well Tasha, when you put it like that it seems like it is easy to value only what is worth it!” But this clear choice slips away from us all the time. Are we going to hold the standing we’ve reached in our lives above the kindness someone who is struggling needs from us? Are we going to weigh our own need to get more things done and move faster and log those hours, more than we weigh the patience we should have with our family or friends? Is it more important to us to be right than it is to be in community? What has the most value? What do we most appreciate?
If we appreciate our standing and our drive and our beliefs the most then we will not feel much gratitude at all because we have valued the wrong things. We have to face that we’ve spent our time gathering hundreds of pounds of what is trash when compared to what is worth so much more. For faith, hope and love are good, says Paul. Service, inner drive, intelligence, faithfulness, and talents; they are all good and when they abide together they are wonderful. But the greatest of these, the one to appreciate the most, the one that leads to a grateful life: is love.
The wonderful thing about gratitude is that when we have more of it in our lives when we are valuing the correct things, that is when we become the kind of people others are then grateful for. That is when we become the people that others say, “I thank my God for you every time I remember you.” Gratitude begets gratitude begets gratitude. It is all a matter of choosing well what you appreciate and value.
These words from Paul are not a wedding passage at all. And, while it is beautiful to read these words in that setting, let’s all be grateful that our faith is so much more than platitudes suitable for a single day. Our faith is a plumb line, showing us what is true and how to fashion ourselves so that we are true too. These words do not simply speak to us when we are dressed up and holding hands and feeling in love. They are the words that set the shape of our life—on the best days, on the hardest days, on the days when our gratitude has grown thin—it is these words that show us what, in the end, is trash versus the ultimate treasure. Amen.